DRUGS IN SPORT — PART 1

Drugs in sport are becoming a more and more prevalent issue that has athletes facing many repercussions as a result of it. There are numerous factors that affect society as a result of athletes choosing to use drugs while continuing to compete in sport. Such factors as what types of drugs are used and how to test for them, the legal repercussions of using drugs in sport, as well as the associated health risks of drugs on the human body will be examined below. Throughout, there are examples of professional, and occasionally amateur, athletes who have tested positively for using drugs, in any capacity, during their career and the effects that it’s had on their careers, and, in some instances, their personal lives. Athletics plays a major role in today’s society, by understanding how drugs fits into the athletic lifestyle, it gives a clearer understanding of the way society works around us.

The types of drugs that athletes tend to abuse are social abuse drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, ecstasy, and performance enhancement drugs. Social abuse drugs are drugs that athletes would be introduced to as a factor of the celebrity lifestyle that many successful athletes live, especially in Western society. The use of these drugs can have effects that improve their performance in competition for a short period but, that can also contribute to the diminishing of their career and overall health. They also change behavioural aspects of a person, which can diminish a person’s relationships with their loved ones, employers, and even strangers they encounter on a regular basis. As was the case with Mike Richards, currently playing with the best team in the NHL – Washington Capitals. Richards is one of the few hockey players that has won championships at every level he’s played at but, social abuse drugs had such a profound impact on his life that, for a period of time, it was unclear as to whether he would ever play hockey professionally again. In the summer of 2015, Richards was arrested for attempting to bring a banned substance into Canada from the United States (Dater, 2015).

Performance Enhancing Drugs are substances that athletes will take to help improve their performance in competition. They’re often academically referred to as “anabolic steroid use in sports by professional and amateur athletes”(National Centre for Drug Free Sport). While the Anti-Doping Agency says that PEDs are in violation of the nature of sport, there are arguments supporting their use in all sporting competitions so as to help enhance the athlete’s natural abilities. An idea was proposed that the use of anabolic steroids would just improve the athlete’s innate ability and improve the nature of sport, raising it to a higher level of competition (Savulescu, Foddy, and Clayton, 2004). The main argument was that through the use of PEDS, a champion would be determined less by the genetic ability to perform well in sporting competitions but, make it more about the athlete’s training abilities.

“The result will be that the winner is not the person who was born with the best genetic potential to be strongest. Sport would be less of a genetic lottery. The winner will be the person with a combination of the genetic potential, training, psychology, and judgment. Olympic performance would be the result of human creativity and choice, not a very expensive horse race” (Savulescu, Foddy, and Clayton, 2004).

However, this would completely destroy what sporting competitions are based on, the spirit of sport, and determining who the absolute best is. Athletes are born with the innate ability to compete and to want to be the best at their craft. If everyone’s suddenly given the ability to make themselves better than the Michael Phelps’, or the Katarina Witt’s of the world, why would athletes feel the need to train hard to compete at the highest level? This would completely undermine the integrity of elite sport. Not to mention the medical harm one could be doing to their bodies by using Performance Enhancing Drugs. In 2014, former Maple Leaf Carter Ashton was suspended for having used PEDS. He claimed to have ingested the substance unknowingly through an unprescribed inhaler for asthma induced by exercise. Ashton was admitted to the NHL/NHLPA’s Program for Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health but his reputation as a “reputable” NHLer was destroyed and he ended up signing with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in 2015.

When an athlete’s tested for potential drug use, whether it be a PED, or a social abuse drug, a sample of their urine will be collected. Sometimes, it’ll be collected prior to the event beginning but, in some cases a urine sample will be collected during the event (Charish, 2012). Generally, a urine sample will only be collected during the event if there were traces of an illegal substance in their urine prior to the event starting but, not enough to get a definitive test that the athlete had been using.

An example of this occurring was at the Sochi Olympics. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals forward, had tested positively for a banned substance through urine sample. It turns out that the substance was found in a form of allergy medicine that Backstrom had been taking for seven years prior to the Olympics in Sochi (Burnside, 2014). Although he had competed in every game leading to what was supposed to be the most important game of his career, he wasn’t able to play in the Gold Medal Game, which Sweden lost to Canada. It makes it much more interesting because Backstrom had alerted the doping officials that he was using this substance for health reasons, but was only called for a hearing on the last day of the event. Since Backstrom’s levels of pseudoephedrine were only 40 micrograms per milliliter, the IIHF argued that he should’ve been able to retest but, since the IOC didn’t call the hearing until the exact start time of the Gold Medal Game, a retest would’ve been useless (Burnside, 2014). Mathieu Schneider of the NHLPA used Lubomir Visnovsky’s similar case at the Vancouver Olympics as being a way to argue the unfair treatment. Visnovsky, a Slovak, submitted a urine sample that was over the limit for another banned substance but, he was able to submit another sample – his levels had decreased, so he was given a warning and continued to compete in the competition. Slovakia finished fourth.

There are ways for athletes to avoid being detected in their urine samples, especially for male athletes. There are forms of testosterone enhancements that have the effect of enhancing performance that, as of yet, aren’t on the list of banned substances according to the World Anti-Doping Agency. The BALCO case, as explained by Werner and Hatton (2011), involved the owner of BALCO, Victor Conte, giving American track athletes an unknown steroid, a “designer” drug, through a syringe he was sending to the athletes. A sprinter coach, found the syringes in a garbage can at a track meet and anonymously sent them to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency where it was sent to a testing laboratory. Using designer drugs poses many scientific problems for testing agencies, and they can be considered to be natural changes in the body because there’s a chance that it is.

“Although the appeal of designer steroids to avoid detection is evident, athletes often turn to testosterone for performance enhancement, in part, because it too, presents testers with a challenge: how does one differentiate between endogenous (natural) and exogenous (synthetic) testosterone in an athlete’s urine?” (Werner & Hatton, 2011).

While this is an issue with male athletes, this isn’t a viable option for female athletes as too much testosterone in a woman would be alarming, and there is no evidence found that can support estrogen enhancing athletic performance.

Athletes and their sporting organization, whether it’s a professional sports team, or a national team, have a contract with strict provisions outlining which substances are prohibited, the sanctions an athlete could face if test positively to the use of at least one of those substances, and any remedies that a player could utilize following a positive test (Charlish, 2012).  There was the case of Korda v ITF Ltd, International Tennis Federation, that tested the whether there was, in fact, a binding contract between the Czech tennis player, Korda, and his governing body. Korda insisted that there was no such contract, written or oral. However, the World Anti-Doping Agency was able to determine that there was a contractual agreement between a sports participant and its governing body through the enforcement of anti-doping clauses imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Governing Bodies, the National Anti-Doping Organizations and the National Governing Bodies (Charlish, 2012). The idea of strict liability has recently become the most important aspect of anti-doping policy in all sport to try to ensure that all athletes are competing without an unequal advantage. Strict liability makes all athletes accountable for the substances in which they put into their body. It would be considered negligent for them to not determine whether the substance is in violation of policy or not before consuming it. “Under the strict liability principle an athlete is responsible, and an anti-doping rule violation occurs, whenever a Prohibited Substance is found in an Athlete’s Sample. The violation occurs whether or not the Athlete intentionally or unintentionally used a Prohibited Substance or was negligent or otherwise at fault”(Charlish, 2012).

All athletes competing at any particular event, hosted by a governing body that’s in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code, are eligible to be tested for illegal substance use prior, or during the event. The most notable signatory of the Code is the International Olympic Committee. As a governing body of the world’s most elite sporting competition, the IOC has the authority to test any of the thousands of athletes competing in the event for illegal substances, and, if they test positive, they have the authority to not allow the athlete to compete. In smaller sporting organizations, such as the National Hockey League, they do not test quite as extensively as the International Olympic Committee. Since their tests are not as thorough, they focus more on whether their players are using PEDs rather than drugs of abuse. NHL Deputy Commissioner, Bill Daly, admitted that only 1/3 of the 2400 urine samples collected per year are tested for drugs of abuse whereas all samples collected are tested for steroids and other PEDS (Westhead, 2015). Though, the NHL’s stated that they’ll be beginning to test more comprehensively in order to be able to educate their players on the effects of drug use, and the dangers of celebrity life (Westhead, 2015). “’One major point of emphasis is party drugs like coke, ecstasy, molly, those types of drugs,’ Daly said. ‘When bad things happen, we try to address the bad things.’”(Westhead, 2015)

To be continued………..

**DISCLAIMER — this article was originally a term paper for LAWS 4303 at Carleton University, it has been modified from its original submittal

Jordyn is a recent graduate of Carleton University with a Bachelor of Arts in Law and Legal Studies with a double minor in French and Religion. She is currently a Graduate Student at Brock University, in the Sport Management program, specializing in development in hockey. For the past decade, she has lived, breathed and talked hockey, and the issues surrounding the sport. Jordyn has previously worked with the IIHF, NHL, and is currently working with the Niagara IceDogs in the OHL.

Related Posts